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Avoiding Scams Amid COVID-19

Difficult times can bring out the best in people and communities. We’ve seen that locally in recent weeks as people have pulled together for the common good to make masks for healthcare workers, spearhead donation efforts, and start social media campaigns to spread positivity. Unfortunately, difficult times can also draw out those who try to take advantage of the fear and generosity of others for their own gain. The current coronavirus pandemic is no different. Here are a few common coronavirus scams and some quick tips to avoid them in the coming weeks.

Work and Income Scams

As some people fall on hard times and many more work from home, scammers are offering fake jobs and promises of income in exchange for an upfront payment. These scams often come in through email, text message, online link, or a phone call. They usually try to collect your bank account information, promising a direct deposit of funds. In reality, there is no job, no income, and scammers are only trying to gain access to your account to drain your remaining money. As a general rule, never give away personal or account information to anyone you don’t know and trust.

Fake Stimulus Checks

As government stimulus checks start getting deposited in people’s accounts, be wary of government imposters trying to help you get access to stimulus or grant money. In some cases, scammers are offering to help people collect their government money for a fee. Other scams may come in the form of emails or text messages that prompt you to click on a link and provide personal information. Other links will download malware onto your computer or ask you for access to your credit union account. Even if these emails or text messages appear to be coming from reputable sources, always be careful before clicking any link or providing any personal or account identification.

Fake Cures

The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice are warning against websites and online sellers that offer phony coronavirus cures. These may come in the form of pills, “vaccines,” liquids, or formulas that tout an immunity to or a cure from the virus. These products are generally targeted at older Americans, and are all currently unproven and illegally marketed. As of now, there is no such cure or vaccine approved by the FDA and available for use. Steer clear of these sellers and products.

Price Gouging

You’ve probably noticed that it’s hard to find toilet paper in just about every store. Scammers are noticing too. It’s similarly hard to find items like hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and face masks. These hard-to-find items have caused some sellers (especially online) to set exorbitant prices. Recently, 30 states’ attorneys general sent letters to online sellers like Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist, urging them to crack down on price gouging. Some sites have removed certain third-party sellers, and Amazon has indicated plans to prosecute price gougers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Preying on Fears

Scammers are paying attention to the consumer trends and finding ways to prey on people’s fears. Fake websites have been set up to sell hard-to-find items, as well as other products ranging from fraudulent health insurance to fake coronavirus test kits (the FDA has yet to approve test kits for home use). Be careful about where you shop and always filter incoming messages and emails with skepticism. Stick to reliable, reputable online stores and always check for a secure connection indicated by a lock icon in the URL.

Fake Charities

Scammers have also started to pose as charities, claiming to help healthcare organizations or people in need. In reality, they are collecting your kindhearted donations for their personal gain. Before you donate to a charity, always do your research with the IRS to make sure it’s a legitimate charity. It’s also a good idea to donate through the organization’s official website, rather than via a link, or an incoming text message, email or phone call. And again, never give anyone access to your bank account information.

The best way to avoid coronavirus scams is to filter any incoming message or opportunity with a healthy dose of common sense. Always safeguard your personal and account information. And if something seems too good to be true (or if prices seem too high to be real), recognize the communications for what they’re worth and steer clear of scammers.

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